The New School

The New School
Ivory Tower Defense

Brenda Brathwaite | 26 May 2009 12:29
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"For me, that was the stupidest part," says Randy, a veteran Art Lead currently working on an Xbox 360 and PS3 title. His mobygames.com listing clears the 15-title mark. "I mean, I've shipped how many games, and I'm somehow not qualified to teach people how to make them? Give me a fucking break." I tell Randy about the time I stood up at a particular conference to comment on the same thing. I thought it absurd that some of our best and brightest were considered unfit to teach for lack of a piece of paper. I was unaware at the time that it was not a judgment call.

"It feels like a judgment call," says Jeff, a programmer with 10 years in the games industry, "like they're saying that this piece of paper is more important than my experience, and that's ridiculous." It is a refrain I hear again and again from fellow developers hoping to make the leap.

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The degree is a statement of separation, a clean dividing line between us and them. It was only when I landed on the other side of that line that I realized why the credentials were so important: accrediting bodies are, in a sense, the ESRB of academia. If you don't get your game (degree program) rated (accredited), you enter a whole new territory - one where you probably don't want to be. Among other things, credentialed faculty are a part of the accrediting process. I talk with dozens of academics and even department heads who would love to hire game developers based only on experience, if only they could.

"There is also the matter of whether or not people can actually teach what they do," a friend and fellow professor points out. Teaching is a gig all its own, a unique set of skills refined over time. I can think of some successful people in the game industry who struggle to compose their ideas for a single meeting, let alone a quarter or a semester.

Multiple Endings

As nice as it is for a faculty member to have real-world experience, it's not everything, and it shouldn't be.

Sacrilege. Mike doesn't say it, but I suspect he thinks it. Mike is a game designer and programmer that I've known for years. He and I are talking about the issue via Skype. "Experience teaches you a lot that a non-industry prof could not know," he says. "They can hear the stories and parrot them, but true knowledge of [game design] is different."

I recognize his thinking, because it was mine. Teaching and researching changed my perspective, and I don't know whether it could have happened any other way.

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